Ideas for K-2 Teachers

October 9, 2013

     With only 20-25 minutes for an intervention group, I knew that my book selection was very important. It had to be a book short enough that I could read it but still have time to have some type of discussion. I also wanted to introduce a very important oral language skill that I had always done with my kindergarten classes when I was a K teacher which was "Turn & Talk". Even though I have very small groups, (2-4 students) I knew that talking and expressing their thoughts and ideas was extremely important and something I wasn't willing to sacrifice.

     Some of the first books I chose were: 


Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.

Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta

Boy and Bot by Ame Dyckman

How To Be A Cat by Nikki McClure

Digger and Tom by Sebastien Braun


     Books such as these are high quality literature but can be read in a short period of time and I still have time for discussion. They also have interesting end pages, title pages, great illustrations and wonderful story lines. In addition,they are appealing to kindergarten children. The end pages in Chicka Chicka Boom Boom show all the letters of the alphabet but when read line by line with the teacher have breaks that encourage children to really take a look at them rather than singing them as they do in the alphabet song. You can actually get your letter practice in with the end pages by having kids find letters in their name, say a sound and find a letter, point to a letter and have them tell you the name of it, or a myriad of other games, depending on the ability of the students you are working with at the time. 

     Nighttime Ninja is a wonderfully surprising story and simply delights the children. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is one that you should definitely buy. Kids love ninjas and this book is done in silhouette. It appears that a ninja has broken into a house and is creeping around and up to no good. Near the very end of the book a light comes on and . . . a mother discovers her "nighttime ninja" trying to complete his "mission" of eating ice cream in the middle of the night! My "Turn & Talk" question for the end of the story is, "Were you surprised by the ending of the story? Why?"

     Nikki McClure's latest book, How To Be A Cat is a lovely story of a Mama Cat teaching her Baby Cat all the things he needs to know. Each cutout is accompanied by just one word - a verb. Before I read this book I explained that there were some words in this book that perhaps they might not know and I had put a few of them on index cards. Even with kindergarten kids you can use the vocabulary exercise of "I know it, I don't know it, or I've heard it but I don't know what it means". The only difference it that the activity is done orally. The words I chose to use with my students from the book were: pounce, explore, feast, tumble and stalk. Remember, I am working with the lowest kindergarten students! Some of them knew or had heard of feast, explore and tumble. None of them knew "stalk" or "pounce" but by the end of the story they knew or had a good idea of all of them! How great is that? And how unfortunate for them if I wasn't doing this type of activity?

     Many of you may be familiar with "Turn & Talk" but might wonder how it is accomplished or begun in kindergarten. It does take time and some perseverance but if you stick with it, the payoff is certainly worth it and in my opinion, a necessity. I begin by telling them who their partner is and when I did it with my entire class, I had them sit in a circle (I did this during morning meeting) and started with a very basic, easy question: What is your favorite kind of ice cream? or What is your favorite color? Turn and tell your partner. But the twist comes when they report back to the group. I tell them, you have to be a good listener because you are going to report back not what YOUR favorite ice cream, color, etc. is but what your PARTNER'S favorite is. You also have to make sure they don't just say the answer such as "chocolate" or "blue". They must say a complete sentence. "Susan's favorite kind of ice cream is chocolate."With the students in my intervention groups, I often had to feed them the entire sentence - I would have to tell them: "Say "Susan's" and they would repeat "Susan's" then I would give them the next part, "favorite kind of ice cream" and they would repeat that part and then I would give them the last part. Many of them couldn't even say the whole sentence so I would have to chunk it like this and have them repeat it. I did it this way for several WEEKS until they could do it on their own but I never let them get away without doing it so they knew they would be responsible for a complete sentence. Once they were able to do a simple sentence on their own I knew I could bump it up. It has been a month and I am now able to add the question "why" to our questions - What is your favorite animal from the story and why?" Not bad!

     In addition, my students can tell you what an author does, what an illustrator does and if there is only one name on the cover, they understand that this person did both jobs! They also understand that it is important to pay attention to the end pages and the title pages and any pages in-between as they offer lots of information that precedes the first page of the story. I would say they have learned quite a bit for the first month of school. . .

     More about my letter activities that I do with my students next time! I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment on my home page!!

                                        Mary Lou






September 12, 2013


Letter Knowledge Activities for K

     I am now a literacy coach but did teach kindergarten for 24 years. Because of this, I know that K kids, at this time of year, have a very short attention span and need activities that are fun and active! I also know that we are in the world of testing and fluency probes even for these little ones and speed is the name of the game. See my post below about alphabetic fluency and what it is all about and how it is different from simply naming the letters and sounds. I promised a post of some fun activities to teach our youngest learners how do this and here it is!
This weekend when I was supposed to be at the mall shopping for my own birthday presents (yes - I got money from my boyfriend and kids) I was passing Brookstone and couldn't help but stop at the display for their Sand. It has 2% polymer in it, so it sticks to itself, but not your hands. This sand is sooo super soft and silky and does what it says it will do. I had to spend my birthday money on it. It's worth every penny of the $20.00 I spent on the large jar. When I bought it, I didn't even know what I was going to do with it, but I was sure kinders would love it! LOL!
It didn't take me long to figure it out . . . In our district we used the Jumpstart program for many of our at risk incoming kindergarten students in the summer. We also decided to use it with all our kinders for the first 26 days of school as well, because our screening scores indicated a need for it. Briefly, a new letter of the alphabet is introduced each day of the week.  After I had bought the sand, the teachers had introduced the letters Aa & Bb. I work with students that need the most interventions, so I put the sand in a bucket along with four foam letters of each of the capital and lowercase letters of Aa & Bb for a total of 16 letters and the kids had to "dig for the letters". I had written each letter on a card and when they pulled the letter out, they named it (if they could, if not I would ask them if it was an "A" or a "B") and then they would repeat the letter sound after me and place it under the appropriate card. THEY LOVED IT! When we had finished with all 16 letters I said each letter again and they repeated the letter and sound after me - so those kids got a total of 32 repetitions in a fun and active way! It also only took about 15 minutes. Ta Da!
*Note - you could certainly use regular sand, beans or rice but I thought I would tell you about the polymer sand because I thought it was a pretty cool find! 
So here is another clever idea for learning letters. Do you have those plastic Easter eggs lying around or can you dig them out? Besides the obvious game of writing the capital letter on one side and the matching lowercase letter on the other and having the children put them back together - which is great for fine motor practice by the way - I have thought up another, even better game for these eggs! And for the record, never put all the letters of the alphabet out, at one time for this matching game, because that is too many and too confusing, even for the kids that know all their letters and they will just waste time trying to find the matches.
This game is a take-off on the old shell game! Get out those small foam or magnetic letters and use the larger half of the egg. Review a couple of the letters you are using with the kids and then place them one at a time under the egg halves . .  then move them around and around (like the shell game) and let the kids take turns lifting up one egg and saying what letter is underneath! Of course if they don't know it - instead of telling them, ask them, 
"Is it is a ______ or a _________."
If a student doesn't recognize many letters, use the first letter in their name, which they usually know, and the letter that is under the egg and most times they can then tell you the letter name. For example if Susan  is playing the game and the letter "m" is under the egg, but she cannot retrieve the name of the letter "m", ask her, "Is it an "S" or is it an "m"? Nine times out of ten, she will be able to tell you that it is the letter "m". Of course if she can't, simple tell her it is the letter "m" and have her repeat it after you as well as the sound. If you are working with a small group, all the students should say the letter name and sound, so everyone gets the practice. These are just two games but I will post more shortly! 

Letter Naming and Letter Sound Fluency

"So what's the big deal with timing our youngest students on how fast they can name the letters of the alphabet and say their letter sounds? And then you all say they don't know their letters and sounds if they don't say them quick enough! I know they know their letters and sounds - let me show you their letter and sound assessment paper!"
I have heard variations of this conversation countless times and a few years ago I probably said it myself! What is the big deal? I think a big disservice was done to many of our teachers and parents when these timed tests for our youngest students were first introduced because there was not much, if any, explanation given for these tests. So let me try and do that here and now.
First of all, there is a difference between these timed fluency assessments, and the ones that kindergarten teachers give when they assess their students for letter recognition and sound recognition. The teacher typically gives alphabet recognition assessments several times a year. Students look at a sheet of paper with the letters of the alphabet in random order and students say the names of the letters with no prompting. The same is done for the letter sound assessment. The teacher is trying to find out how many letter names and sounds the students recognize for teaching purposes.
Timed fluency assessments are actually looking for something quite different. They are looking for automaticity. You might notice the word "fluency" in this assessment. It is similar to the fluency assessments given to students in the upper grades when they are given a passage to read and they are timed for word count per minute. The brain has only so much short-term memory and the act of reading is complicated. Beginning readers need to keep track of a lot of things. One thing that is extremely important is knowledge of letters and sounds. If they have efficiency - automaticity with this piece, then they can focus on the much more important work fo comprehension - making meaning of text. If students are slow at naming letters and letter sounds then they are not going to be able to work on comprehension because they are using up too much of their energy on the task of decoding.
You've seen it - the student that finishes reading the book and then you ask them what it was about and they can't tell you. You wonder why - because they read all the words but they used so much energy and time working on figuring out the words, they had nothing left to remember the meaning. And if they can't remember what they read, then they aren't really reading - they are just word callers. We need to teach our students to quickly and rapidly know those letters and sounds so they can be meaning makers not word callers.
So - how do we do that???? Stay tuned for my next post on this K-2 section. I have lots and lots of fun ways to do just that! 

                              Lit Coach Lou


 I love this website from the U.K. and kindergarten and Pre-K teachers are going to love it too! It has many printable resources for imaginative play such as, "Fairy Tale Castle", "Under the Sea" and "Pirate Ship". They also have "Stories & Fairy Tales" such as The  Three Bears. There are many components to each resource kit, including banners, retelling cards, props and masks. Check out the Sorry Letter and Recipe for Porridge you can download.
As a coach, you can show teachers how to incorporate writing into centers and choice time. I can see putting the Sorry Letter into the writing center and the Recipe for Porridge would, of course, go into the Housekeeping Center. Make sure to give kids time to share their writing. Writing for an audience is an important part of the writing process as well as an incredibly motivating factor in wanting to write in the first place - to be heard.

"Many a man would rather you heard his story than grant his    request."                                                       Philip Stanhope 

    Mother Goose Rhymes & Activities     

 This a fun website that teaches students about rhyming words 
as well as sound/symbol relationships!             




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